Review by Ellen S. Jaffe
Mustard, a modern fairy-tale, by Kat Sandler, currently at the Tarragon Extra Space, vibrates with energy and freshness. It provides a delicate balance of comedy and emotion, leaving the audience laughing and emotionally touched. It explores the need for play and magic—the kind of magic that sustains adolescents through the difficult passage from childhood to adulthood. Sandler, a prolific funny playwright, is co-founder, artistic director, as well as playwright of the indie company, ‘Brouhaha’. Mustard, written while she was working with the Tarragon’s Playwrights Unit in 2014, is her Tarragon debut. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann
Sandler hopes to create plays for the “HBO generation,” but any post-teen would enjoy this tale.
Sixteen-year-old, Thai, played by talented new actor Rebecca Liddiard, is on the cusp of growing up. Yet she wants to keep her imaginary, childhood friend, Mustard, vibrantly portrayed by Anand Rajaram. The saucy, Rajaram is a joy to watch, with his colourful vocabulary, matching his jester’s costume. His performance holds the play together. Thai wants Mustard to continue living under her bed, yet also wants him to leave so she can spend time with her new boyfriend, played with a sweet sensitivity by Paolo Santaluccia. Thai has major worries: her father has left the family, and her mother, Sadie, portrayed with wonderful nuances by Sarah Dodd, is mourning his loss, with alcohol and pain-killers. In her grief, Sadie, too, starts to see Mustard. She moves from demanding that he “Be Gone!” to enjoying tender moments, as he impersonates her lost husband.
Mustard longs to stay with Thai and her mother, and is terrified of returning to “Boon Swallow,” the dark land where “Boons” (the play’s technical term for imaginary friends) go when they are no longer needed in the human world. But when two “boon police,” Julian Richings (the more verbal of the two) and Tony Nappo (more of a thug) come to get him, they offer a grimly comic element, revealing the streak of cruelty which often underscores fairy tales.
Ashlie Corcoran’s directing is excellent. She keeps the show physical, to the point of being clown-like. The words are released quickly—in brilliant, fast-paced word-play. Sandler’s script is deft and witty, with moments of sadness, misunderstanding, counterbalanced with a search for love that is poignant but not sentimental. Michael Gianfrancesco’s realistic set provides a great background for the story of two worlds—the magic and everyday. His costumes also have flair. The excellent lighting by Graeme S. Thomson and Nick Andison effectively emphasizes the changing moods.